Management: Clone Yourself
Virtual assistants have literally changed my life, but it wasn’t easy to make the change. I used to spend late nights working on client projects and early mornings too stressed to breathe. Frankly, I was burning myself out and didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.
A few years ago, I changed my business model from employee-based to virtual assistant-based, and I couldn’t be happier.
What Is A Virtual Assistant?
Virtual assistants (VAs) are people who essentially work as freelancers within your business. Like entrepreneurs, VAs choose who they work with, the type of work they do and when and where they work. Virtual assistants are self-starters who have successfully escaped the 9-to-5 grind without the risk that comes with entrepreneurship.
It’s important to make the mindset shift of viewing virtual assistants as people. I know it sounds ridiculous to restate that VAs are people, but the truth is I’ve seen so many business owners fail at working with VAs because they didn’t treat them as people—myself included. Before I “cracked the code” on how best to work with VAs, I’d see a username and a task that needed to be done, but I never took the initiative to get to know the VAs I was bringing on my team.
There are two ways to work with VAs. The first is you can hire them for small tasks here and there with no long-term plan. The second is to strategically and thoughtfully recruit, hire, train and manage VAs in the same way you would traditional employees. I used to hire VAs for occasional small tasks and was never fully satisfied with the outcome. However, now I view VAs as if they are employees in my business and the results have been incredible.
The VA Life
This past summer, I was named to Silicon Valley Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 list, but I don’t say this to brag. Let’s be honest—a guy selling swag in Silicon Valley isn’t getting anyone’s attention. I built out systems for my VAs to run my brand relationship agency, SwagWorx.com, so that I could focus on my strengths. Within my business, my greatest strength is sales, so I focus on working mostly in sales and not getting too involved with the rest of the business. Now, here’s the fun part, I work less than four hours a day while increasing sales year over year.
When you free up your time, you have two options. You can either use the time you regained to grow your business or spend more of your time living and not working.
In the past three years, I’ve built out the “SwagSam” brand through a media network called WhatUp! Silicon Valley. I’ve produced nine podcasts, written three books and hosted three YouTube channels. How have I been able to do all of this? I’ve cloned myself. Well, not literally, but I’ve built out a VA team that can systematically produce all the content while my swag business essentially runs itself. And the best part is you can do it, too.
What To Know Before Hiring A VA
Before you go out and hire a VA, take a look at these guidelines below and tweak them for your business. You can also listen to my podcast at www.cloneyourselfu.com/podcast for a strategic step-by-step process to hiring your next VA.
- Visualize: Why do you want a VA? Do you want more free time to grow your business or live your life? What will your life be like when you have more time? What will you have to give up in return for this? (Think about the growing pains you are sure to experience because we all know that anything great doesn’t come easily.)
- Roles And Responsibilities: Think of VAs as if they are your employees. You’d never hire an employee without a purpose and a plan. Apply this same approach to hiring VAs.
- Getting ROI With A VA: What is your budget? How will you prioritize your tasks and projects for new VAs to fit within your budget? Use this online calculator (built by a few of my VAs) to see what your savings might be using a VA’s rate of pay rather than your own: www.cloneyourselfu.com/roi.
- Start With Objective Tasks: Objective tasks are those that have a right and wrong way to complete them; subjective tasks are those that leave room for interpretation. Set yourself (and your VAs) up for success by starting with objective tasks.
- From Tiny Tasks To Big Projects: Take a bite-sized chunk of a project and give it to your VA instead of overwhelming them (and you) with a huge project right off the bat.
Hiring A VA
VAs have wide-ranging skills. If you can dream up a task, you can find a VA to help.
When you make the mindset shift of looking at VAs as employees, you can begin to see the ROI of this relationship. For example, your business likely has peaks and valleys. When you are less busy, you are still paying your employee(s) to work, whereas VAs are paid on an as-needed basis.
There are a lot of VA agencies you can work with, but I recommend only working with an agency that does not require you to commit to a set number of hours per week or month. Agencies that require you to commit to a minimum number of hours go against one of the main reasons businesses choose to work with VAs—flexibility. It’s likely that you might hire a VA to work just one hour a day for five days a week or some other frequency based on your workload.
I recommend using VAs to get tedious and time-sucking tasks off your plate. Even though you may be able to complete those tasks quickly, you are robbing yourself of the opportunity to spend more time on your strengths. I’d much rather hire a VA to complete a task that doesn’t require my specific skill set because it frees me up to work on the business rather than being a slave to the business. Think of it as a game; you win when you get things off your plate. The goal is to only do the work that requires your expertise.
If you look at hiring VAs as you would employees, I highly recommend against hiring a VA based on the lowest price. A lot of people are attracted to the VA business model as a way to get cheap labor, but just like the products in our industry or any other, you get what you pay for.
Calculating The Target Hourly Rate
Here’s one formula to figure an hourly rate for your VA: look at your monthly (or annual) income goal then divide it by the number of hours you need to work for that period.
For example: $200,000 (annual income goal) divided by 2,000 (number of work hours to achieve that goal) equals $100 per hour. (By the way, 2,000 hours is based on working 40 hours a week. So, take this example with a grain of salt because your goal is really to work four hours a day or less. But remember, you need to put in the work upfront to get to that point.)
Now that you see your time is worth $100 per hour, you’ll realize that every task in your business has an approximate dollar value, so be extremely mindful of how you spend your time.
In the May issue, the second part of this article will discuss some of the tasks VAs can handle for distributors, where to find reliable VAs and tips for effectively onboarding them.
Be patient and expect some mistakes as you and your VA get used to working together. Make sure you have a plan in place so that when you do get discouraged you can easily go back to your visualization of what your life will be like if you continue down the path of using a VA. Working towards your vision and knowing your 'why' will keep you aligned with your higher purpose.
Sam Kabert is principal and creative director at SwagWorx.com in the San Francisco Bay area. He also has a podcast about mindfulness called Soul Seekr and is founder of WhatUp! Silicon Valley, a media network for news in business, sports, networking and innovation. Read more at CloneYourselfu.com and reach him at Sam@SoulSeekrz.com.